Lessons from a writer: Three things needed in a novel
Novels reflect history, consequence, circumstance, and imagination. Creating a novel requires more than just three things to work and function as something worth committing to (because all writers should know that reading is a commitment). Several members of the group panel today discuss different things in their choice of three, which makes each answer uniquely true in their own way. It’s a great panel this week!
What are at least three things needed in a novel?
Three things needed in a novel are a good plot, great characters, and a story that features transformation. A good plot is important because as we read more and more stories and watch more and more movies and TV shows, we become accustomed to tropes. The more tropes, the less interested we are. So, as a writer, I have to be able to make an old trope new and interesting, or I have to go beyond and become the next trope-setter. Characters are important too, because they are the ones that readers live the story through. If your character is dull, your readers will be bored. And finally, a story in which the main character becomes more than what he was when the story started. Great stories show characters who overcome odds, difficulties, and disabilities. They show characters that learn from their mistakes or perish because they did not. Readers like stories of transformation because they give us hope . . . hope that we, too, can change and become more than what we were. -Steven Guglich
- A variety of characters. I hate seeing the same repeats over and over. I love finding out about people and getting invested in a character’s personality.
- An ongoing “mystery.” For me personally, I love it when there’s something to think about the entire time. I like having questions in my head and looking for clues as I read. Even if it’s more of a personal story, I want to know how the main character is going to turn out.
- Realism. I don’t like stories where everything works out just because of luck. If the characters worked really hard to overcome their obstacles, that’s fine. I have zero tolerance for “Good thing those five things that could have gone wrong didn’t!” -Tim Munnerlyn
The absolute necessity needed in a novel is first and foremost what ideas you are wanting to portray in this work. Once it’s recognized, the following necessities become tangible. Second, how is this story going to be constructed? Is it a classical three-act structure or is a small arc in a much grander story? Third, and I think is the more relatable one, do you like it? I’m not asking if it’s perfect or is great. I’m asking if it makes you personally happy writing. That is more important than fame, money, or books sold. -Jack Pewitt
A novel is made up of numerous pieces, from characters to setting to conflict to style—all of which are important in their own way. Everyone values different aspects of a story more than others, and these are the three largest things I look for when reading (or writing) a book:
- Emotion. I want to be drawn into the story. I want to feel the emotions of the characters: their pain, their joy, their fear. Emotions, both in their actions and reactions, define a character more than anything else. Flashy actions and sassy lines might win my approval of a character, but I won’t connect with them until I’m part of their thoughts and feelings.
- Complicated, flawed characters. I want to like the main characters, or at least feel for them. This doesn’t mean I will approve of everything they do, but there is a difference between being disgusted at a character for acting stupid and mentally begging him or her to not do something even though you can see their reason for action. A character needs to be relatable. He needs to have some strand of goodness. And he also needs to be flawed. Because people are flawed. They make mistakes, and they have to work through them. A perfect character is much less interesting to read about than one who has to deal with problems, struggles, and doubts.
- Impossible hope. Many books nowadays are dark and depressing. Call me old-fashioned, but I still enjoy the ones filled with fear and danger and impossible tasks that carry hope with them despite all logic and reason. If I want to see sorrow and depression, I can look at the world around me. When I read a book, I want to see how the impossible become possible, how hope and faith never die, and how the surrounding dangers are defeated, even if victory does come at a cost. I want to be inspired and reminded that good will win in the end so long there are those willing to fight for it. -Hope Ann
Three things I think are needed in a novel? The first is memorable characters. When I enjoy a book and finish with it, the first thing I recall is how memorable certain characters are. I think it’s a crucial thing for a novel to have a character build up so much rapport with the reader throughout the story that at the end, you ask from time to time, I wonder what happened to such and such a character. Did they accomplish more?
The second thing is dialogue. It must flow and be realistic. A lot of the time, dialogue makes the story flow, and in fact, at times, tell the story. A must have is good dialogue. Not wasteful sentences but actual conversation between characters like you and I would have.
The final thing I believe that novels need is a good ending. Whether or not it’s a cliffhanger, it needs to be good. Not just “It all ends in a dream.” I want to sit and think about what happens further. What if things change? I don’t like endings that are just done because nothing in life is ever just done. A lot can happen after happy ever after. -Charlotte Munro
I think a good novel actually needs five basic things to also be a good story. Characters, setting, conflict, sacrifice, and what I’m going to call “something borrowed.”
Characters. It may seem obvious, but without characters of some sort (people, animals, aliens, personified objects), you won’t have anything to interact with. Have characters who grow, learn, and make mistakes.
Setting. All stories have a place and a time. Establish this. “Set the stage” so they can see it. What is the environment like? Past, present, future, or undetermined? Show it deeper through clothing style, accent, typical interactions, slang, technology, transportation, food, etc. Bring us there.
Conflict. To quote Dory, “You can’t never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him.” Quite literally, without some sort of issue, problem, conflict, burning desire, or need for answers, what’s the point? What makes things happen? What is the goal of the story? What are they aiming for? You won’t know until something goes wrong that needs fixing.
Sacrifice. What means the most to your main character, and is it worth giving that up to resolve the conflict? If it means something to your character, it will mean something to the readers when the character has to decide.
“Something borrowed.” First and foremost, I’ll clarify by saying I’m not talking about borrowing something from another writer or book. That’s plagiarism. You want something borrowed from the real world, from your own life and personal experience. Take something you know that had an emotional effect on you and work that into the story. It can be nostalgic, sad, amazing, heartbreaking, funny, anything at all. It can even be little habits or mannerisms. It can be short tempers or bubbly attitudes. If you take something from what you’ve seen or experienced and put it in your writing, you’re becoming relatable. People will connect with your writing because it’s real, because they’ve experienced that same thing. They’ve seen it, they understand. They empathize. That is SO important. -Crystal MM Burton
I remember from elementary school the basics of writing a good story. Our three main parts were the beginning, middle, and end—later on in school we learned that those parts were called the main idea—introduction, the body—the story itself, and then the conclusion—wrap up of the story. I don’t think much has changed except for how we tell the story. Our stories need a solid start . . . something that captures our audience within the first four lines. It needs a great buildup of content about the characters, the situation, or the problem and at the end a resolution, epiphany or conclusion to the story . . . or something that will hook us until the next installment of the story (see cliffhanger). I’ve seen people begin their stories in the middle of the project and those are the ones I kinda like best. To be thrust into the action and goings on of the story and having to figure it out on my own. For me that is interactive reading and it’s something I look forward to in a good story. -Tyronica Smith
Want to know more about this week’s panel?
Hope Ann is a Christian author of young adult fantasy. She is self-published on Amazon and is currently in the middle of a nine-novella series retelling various fairy tales. She also is working on several novels and enjoys emailing and blogging.
I am a stay-at-home mother and wife who spends my free time baking, crafting, and fangirling. I work from home as an author and freelance editor, and I insist my positive outlook has gotten me to where I am today.
I am a writer of fantasy and science fiction. I’m working on my first fantasy series called “The Veil Saga.” My goal is to have it ready for print by the fall of 2017. To find out more about me and The Veil Saga, you can check out my website.
I’m currently trying my hand at writing fanfiction. I’m a big fan of drama and suspense, as well as comedy. Haven’t read many published works but I read other fanfiction rather frequently.
I’m a horror, paranormal, and fantasy writer with a tendency for darker things. I live in a little sunshine town in England but am often found traversing the dark forests and woodlands, scouting for ideas. I’ve had three books published and am working on my next few as an indie author.
I’m a fantasy, adventure, and horror writer from Texas. I’ve been a member of Authors’ Tale for roughly a year. I have a background in design and a passion for classical art.
I love writing across genres. I’ve recently found a fondness for nonfiction, and the best thing next to an awesome cup of coffee is an even more awesome book! Creators create, readers read, and writers suffer long silences from tight-lipped characters 😛